By Kyle Parmley
TROY – Despite having its top three big men get into foul trouble in the first half, UAB left Trojan Arena with a relatively easy 79-63 win over Troy on Thursday night.
UAB (2-1) starting power forward William Lee and center Tosin Mehinti each picked up their third fouls within 11 seconds of each other just before the halfway mark of the first half.
The turmoil gave Lewis Sullivan a chance to shine, and he did not disappoint.
Sullivan, a sophomore, took complete control of the game. He provided huge minutes when the Blazers needed them in the first half, and concluded the night with a career high 22 points, nine rebounds, two blocks, a steal, and an assist.
“I just had to come off the bench and give energy. All of our bigs got in trouble early, so coaches called my name and I just had to step up,” Sullivan said. “It feels pretty good but I’m not going to get the big head. We still have a lot of games to go. And we still have to grow as a team.”
“Lewis Sullivan is a young man we recruited,” Troy head coach Phil Cunningham said. “The interesting thing – we recruited him as a wing. He’s so quick and athletic. That’s why he went to the free throw line 11 times tonight. He’s long. He’s skilled. He’s a tough matchup.”
A whistle fest broke out in the first half, as the two teams combined for 18 fouls. Along with Lee and Mehinti, Chris Cokley also picked up three fouls in the opening frame.
“I don’t think it was perfect by any means,” UAB head coach Jerod Haase said. “But we handled adversity really well, especially with the foul trouble in the first half.”
Despite the foul trouble, Haase did not send Sullivan in the game to be careful.
“It’s the kind of thing where you say let’s play smart, but I don’t want to take away from the aggressiveness. He did a nice job and played smart,” Haase said. “But we had a few fouls that were silly fouls.”
Sullivan was nearly perfect on the night, as he was 6-of-7 from the field and 10-of-11 from the free throw line. He had a perfect night from the field going until he took an ill-advised 3-point shot late in the game. The shot did not make his coach too happy, and his teammates had some words for him too.
Luckily, they could joke about it afterwards.
“Y’all are recording,” Robert Brown said. “I told him to continue running the offense. He’s getting all of his looks inside. Just go with what’s working.”
Brown also had some encouraging words for his young teammate after a career performance.
“I don’t want to blow his head up too much, but from freshman year to this year, (his growth) is tremendous. The jump he made was mental. He plays pretty much the same, but he’s been more comfortable in the offense and the game has slowed down for him,” Brown said.
UAB led at the halftime break, 32-24, but Troy erased that almost instantly out of gates in the second half. A Jordon Varnado layup three and a half minutes in tied the game at 32-32 and concluded an 8-0 run.
The Blazers began to pull away shortly thereafter, as an emphatic dunk from William Lee extended the lead to 39-34 and he followed that up with a block moments later.
After (we tied the game), we went flat again and let them go on a run. After that, it was hard to overcome,” Troy guard Wesley Person said.
Troy (2-1) struggled to hit shots after that point, as UAB went on a 17-2 run over nearly six minutes to ice the game.
“At the end of the day, we were able to attack inside, and we handled the ball better in the second half,” Haase said.
Varnado, a freshman and brother of former Mississippi State standout Jarvis, was the bright spot for the Trojans’ offense on the night. He racked up 24 points and seven boards in 24 minutes of action.
Person is another Troy player with connections to the Southeastern Conference – his dad, Wesley, and uncle, Chuck, both played at Auburn – and has been a solid scorer for the Trojans as a sophomore. He was the only other Troy player in double digits, with 13 points.
Cokley, a star in the first two games, was held to just two points and five rebounds on 1-of-8 shooting for UAB.
Robert Brown got off to a hot start in the first half, hitting his first four shots. He finished 8-of-13 from the field and scored 18 points, a welcome relief after struggling in the season’s first two games.
“Coach always tells me just to keep shooting and keep grinding,” Brown said. “The beginning of the season started a little slow, but things are starting to pick up. As long as I just keep playing and stay focused on winning, it will handle itself.”
Dirk Williams continued to impress as a newcomer, knocking down three 3-pointers en route to scoring 11 points. His speed on the fast break has also become an advantage for the Blazers. An official even pulled his left hamstring in the second half trying to keep up with Williams.
Point guard Nick Norton did not contribute much on the score sheet, but still commanded the offense with great productivity. He had just five points, but dropped ten assists and only committed one turnover, a phenomenal ratio.
“He obviously has a great feel for the game, with understanding when to attack, and when to slow it down for a great shot. His leadership and understanding of the game was certainly big,” Haase said.
UAB returns to the floor on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., as they take on Jacksonville State at Bartow Arena.